Born in Mardan, twenty-six year old Fakhar Zaman was first introduced to cricket ten years ago when he joined the Pakistan Navy and subsequently the Navy cricket team. He followed this by breaking into the Karachi Regional side before making his first class debut for Karachi Blues in 2013. He has since made a stellar start to his domestic career, averaging over forty in four-day cricket. His greater success though has come in List A games where his outstanding fifty-three runs per innings have come at a strike rate of ninety-three. This, combined with his success in Twenty20 cricket, have meant that he is knocking on the door of the selectors for a place in Pakistan's struggling limited overs sides.
A fan of Adam Gilchrist, the attacking left-hander played a starring role in Pakistan A's series victory over England Lions in January 2016, and he recently hit 153* off 68 balls in the ongoing Peshawar Zalmi's 'Kaun Bane Ga KPK Ka Champion' Twenty20 tournament, proving that he could be the solution to Pakistan's woes at the top of the order.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Fakhar spoke about his excellent progress in domestic cricket, the experience of playing alongside Younis Khan, disappointment of not being picked for the lucrative Pakistan Super League (PSL) and his aspirations for a place in the Pakistan side.
By Saj Sadiq (15th April, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Any regrets on leaving the Pakistan Navy to become a professional cricketer?
Fakhar Zaman : Well what happened was that I thought my life career would be the Pakistan Navy and I would be playing a bit of cricket in my spare time. But I was struggling to combine the two and I had to make a tough decision and choose one of them as a career. When I was in the Navy they identified me as a promising cricketer and I played for the Pakistan Navy team, but the coaches there felt that I had the potential to play cricket professionally. I miss not being in the Navy, but I think I have made the right decision in becoming a professional cricketer.
PakPassion.net : You were born in Mardan, yet have played most of your cricket in Karachi. How did that come about?
Fakhar Zaman : After my studies I joined the Navy and that meant spending a lot of time in Karachi. The coaches in Karachi region identified me as a decent batsman and gave me an opportunity to play for the Under 19 region in Karachi. I then played some club cricket there and eventually went onto play First-Class cricket in Karachi. So a lot of my time was being spent in Karachi and it was only natural that I would settle down there. I spent six years in Karachi from 2007 to 2013 but after joining Habib Bank Limited (HBL), I've now returned home and settled down again in Mardan.
PakPassion.net : In your own words, describe your style of batting?
Fakhar Zaman : We Pathans are naturally aggressive so I like to attack the bowling. Right from my early days my batting has been aggressive and I am someone who likes to put bat on ball. But as you mature as a batsman you have to combine your stroke play with a solid defensive technique and that has been something that I have developed. These days I'd like to think that I am a batsman who can play aggressively and also play defensively and with caution when required.
PakPassion.net : Who have you modelled your batting on and who are your heroes and role-models?
Fakhar Zaman : Adam Gilchrist is my all-time favourite batsman. He was an absolute joy to watch when batting and I loved the way how, whatever the situation, he would play his natural attacking game and counter-attack the opposition bowling. I'm also a huge fan of AB de Villiers and Kumar Sangakkara who are both superb batsmen and what I particularly love about their batting is their ability to be able to perform at any level and in every format. There is so much one can learn from watching these greats.
PakPassion.net : Do you feel that you are best suited to opening the batting or do you prefer to bat elsewhere in the order?
Fakhar Zaman : Throughout my career I have mostly opened the batting, but then when I started to play for Pakistan A I was sent in at number three. I feel that going forward the number three position will be ideal for me. These days a lot of teams are sending in their best batsman at number three and I want to be the batsman who controls the innings from that position.
PakPassion.net : Last season was a superb one for you in domestic cricket. Why the sudden improvement in your batting and performances?
Fakhar Zaman : It's difficult to pinpoint one specific reason for my good form last season. However when I was selected for a Twenty20 series against England Lions for Pakistan A, I watched the England Lions training sessions closely and realised that cricket has changed and that I needed to change also. When I returned to Pakistan I changed my training methods from quantity driven to quality driven sessions. I feel that worked for me and I have reaped the rewards of that change of training style.
PakPassion.net : You weren't picked for the Pakistan Super League (PSL). That surely must have been a major shock for you?
Fakhar Zaman : Yes it was a huge shock not only for me but also to a lot of my team mates and to many of the coaches in Pakistan. I did well in the domestic Twenty20 tournament in Pakistan and also scored a hundred against Peshawar so yes I was very surprised when I was ignored for the Pakistan Super League. Perhaps the reason was that I never did well in the matches that were televised in the domestic competitions. Some players who have a batting average of ten in twenty over cricket were selected but I was ignored. Anyway, these things happen and there's nothing I can do about it, but it was disappointing. However who knows, maybe I might get picked for future PSL tournaments and in addition I wasn't the only player who was surprisingly ignored for the PSL.
PakPassion.net : Your performances against England Lions must have given you a huge confidence boost?
Fakhar Zaman : Yes it was a massive confidence boost as the Lions were a very strong team and had several players with international experience. It was a very good and very hard-fought series and I believe all of the players including myself on both sides will have learnt a lot from that series. It was nice to score three half-centuries and also take a few wickets in that series and overall I was very satisfied with my efforts in that series.
PakPassion.net : Modern-day cricket is ideal for cricketers who are good in all facets of the game. Taking wickets against England Lions must have been a real positive for you?
Fakhar Zaman : Yes absolutely. Taking five wickets in the final match and decider of the series against England Lions was brilliant. I've not really had a lot of chances to bowl but that was a massive boost for my confidence and it gave me a lot of self-belief that when I get the chance to bowl I can do quite well. In domestic cricket our team has Yasir Shah, Kamran Ghulam, Abdur Rehman and other spinners, so it's very difficult to be given a chance to bowl. But I keep practising and bowling in club cricket so that whenever the chance comes to bowl, I am ready.
PakPassion.net : Coming from Mardan, it must be great for you to play alongside Younis Khan at HBL?
Fakhar Zaman : Younis Khan, what can I say about him? He's known all over the world as a great cricketer. He's a great role-model for any cricketer and a fantastic ambassador for Pakistan cricket. I'm lucky that I get the opportunity to spend time with Younis in domestic cricket. I've learnt a lot from him, from what he says at team meetings to even how neat and tidy and well-organised his playing kit is. There is an air of perfection around him and it starts from his hotel room and extends all the way to his spot in the dressing room. There is so much us younger cricketers can learn from him.
PakPassion.net : You've recently turned twenty six. Do you feel you are approaching your best years as a cricketer?
Fakhar Zaman : When I was in my early twenties people would ask me when do you feel you will be ready to play for Pakistan. I would respond by saying, hopefully as soon as possible. But, looking back I think that I have matured enough as a cricketer and feel ready to play for Pakistan now. Perhaps early twenties would have been too soon, but now with several years of domestic cricket behind me and some A tours under my belt I think that the time is right. However I have to continue to work hard and perform and be consistent, these are key to my future.
PakPassion.net : The Pakistan Cup gives you an opportunity to impress the new selection committee, whoever they may be. Any targets for that tournament?
Fakhar Zaman : With new faces in the selection committee I think that gives all the players added impetus to perform as we are all on a level playing field and hoping to impress. The Pakistan Cup is a great opportunity for me and all the other players to catch the eye of the selectors. I always take my cricket very seriously and play hard, whether it's First-Class cricket or club cricket. I will go into the Pakistan Cup with the mindset of playing positively and trying to score as many runs as possible, but also score those runs in a stylish manner.
PakPassion.net : We've seen the Pakistan batting really struggle recently in limited overs internationals, why do you think that is and do you think it's time for some fresh blood to be introduced?
Fakhar Zaman : Fresh or not fresh, I think deserving and in-form players should always be selected. I also think it's important to select players who are hungry and desperate to perform, rather than stale and struggling players. Preparation for international cricket is vital also and I think the National Cricket Academy and other academies need to be utilised fully to ensure Pakistani cricketers are ready for the challenge of international cricket which sometimes perhaps they are not.
PakPassion.net : Why aren't some Pakistani players not ready for the challenge of international cricket when they are selected to play for Pakistan?
Fakhar Zaman : I think the biggest problems in our domestic cricket are the quality of the pitches, which can vary from city to city. Some are green-tops which are horrible for batting and others are flat all four days and horrible for the bowlers. This needs to be evened out and the quality of the pitches needs to be improved. Also the quality of the cricket balls is a problem. Some bowlers who can seam and swing the ball in domestic cricket in Pakistan struggle when they have to use a different type of cricket ball in international cricket. We should look to use a better quality cricket ball and one that is consistent with the demands of international cricket.
PakPassion.net : How do you feel you can build on an excellent last domestic season and surely you must have an eye on an international call-up soon?
Fakhar Zaman : I'm working hard for this upcoming domestic season and preparations have been going well. I'm currently playing in a Twenty20 tournament in Peshawar and that has gone very well so far. As far as the last season is concerned, it has gone now so one should forget about that. Yes it went well but this season is already in my sights. Everybody wants to play for their country, that is the aim when you start playing cricket and I am no different. My aim is to play for Pakistan soon and not just play a few matches and be forgotten. My dream is to play for Pakistan for many years. At the end of the day I have to perform, score runs, impress the selectors with my batting and attitude and then leave it to the selectors. There's a lot of international cricket coming up later this year and I hope to be part of that.